Where one ‘Front Door’ closes…

The front door of LA Maison Blanche has always been something I loved about our house in France. It’s huge, medieval even, needs a good, two-handed shove to get it open. It is literally and figuratively thousands of miles away from our London front door.

The key is enormous befitting a large country house and just seeing it hanging on our London key rack is a constant reminder of our other home.
And it was where we all stood on arrival for the first time as a family and took this photo! The photo I’ve used for my blog heading despite the fact that both boys are now considerably


But once we had painted our house front, the shutters and even the side wall onto the street, the doors remain the last shabby chic aspect of the house – and truth be told they were just shabby. The front door and our little kitchen door were both quite rotten and let the wind rattle through the house.

And so Peter took them all off, used a vat of wood filler and miles of sandpaper to patch them both up.

I looked into the rather inevitable khaki shades of farrow and ball front door cliche that litter London streets. I looked at pale blue, the choice of most English people in France for shutters and doors. And then I looked around our area and noted that most houses are actually painted in shades of cream and brown. And as the door had originally been painted brown I decided to try and stay with a version of that.


And as ever, I wasn’t entirely sure if I shouldn’t have gone with something ‘prettier’ but that afternoon our 75 year old neighbour, Madame Camblat popped round to say hello. When we showed her the door she said ‘ah tres bien, c’est un coleur de campagne’ (it’s a colour of the countryside) and I was glad I’d gone for brown after all.

I heart eBay

I’ve decided to do a blog post showcasing my greatest eBay finds. Friends of mine are forever bemoaning the fact that I always buy stuff on eBay while they cannot find anything of any worth or just can’t be bothered to look. Which is really their big problem. Ebay can be a bit time consuming but there are bargains to be had and the fun of knowing you got something for a lot less money than if you went to John Lewis/Habitat etc Best of all you can get one off, no one else will have them, pieces which is my favourite thing of all.

So here is my idiots guide to shopping for stuff on eBay…

1) EVERYTHING is cheaper on eBay. Even IKEA. Our Kitchen in France was all bought up on eBay thanks to constant searching for IKEA VARDE. If you do want IKEA stuff be specific. Find out its funny Swedish name and search for that. In the case of our french kitchen we plumped for a freestanding range which people seem to be often selling off on eBay so even though it’s pretty cheap to buy it full price, by the time we’d bought 10 units of differing size including drawers and a sink unit, we worked out we saved around £1500.


Going potty

Going potty

2) SAVED SEARCHES ARE YOUR FRIEND. Think about specific things you want or need and save a search on eBay. I currently have saved searches for Made.com and Graham and Green and so every time anyone puts anything up there I get a notification taking me straight to it. We bought our cooker in France this way with a saved search for Smeg Range. You can see the kind of price range you can expect to pay and sometimes one is going cheap. Like this range with hood – ours for just £500 from a cookery school closing down in Watford.


3) BE PREPARED TO TRAVEL. Husband (patiently) has driven for miles around the country over the last few years to buy up stuff I have found and bought on eBay. The further from London the cheaper it will be. FACT.

4) Don’t be put off by things listed as damaged or broken. Our bedroom mirror in France was honestly listed by someone as chipped in the description line which obviously put everyone else off. When it arrived the chip was so minor you can’t even see it but I got the mirror for £50 as opposed to hundreds of pounds for similar ‘non damaged’ ones.



my fifty pound mirror


5) Buy ‘new’ stuff on ebay….I get all manner of useful but quite practical stuff on ebay. Things like ‘wire’. Hanging lights look so much nicer with antiqued or coloured wire hangings and you can search for all this sort of stuff on ebay. And the choice is massive. I had been searching for light wire and stumbled upon this black and white ‘iron’ wire which I switched onto my White Company lights in my London home to make them look a bit more interesting.


Difficult to see but the wire is black and white stripes.


‘antique’ wire on the hanging lights. Search for fabric wire on eBay

6) If you have something you like – keep buying more on eBay. Our garden hammocks were getting a bit shabby but we loved them and used them more than any other item in our french house. IKEA had discontinued them but we saved a search on eBay and now just keep buying them and storing them!


Our favourite place

7)It is the BEST place for haberdashery (well apart from John Lewis but you can get this stuff from your desk!) Cushion fabrics, linging fabric, zips etc can all be bought on ebay. Even discontinued fabrics. Or save a search for expensive brands like Designers Guild and you can always get some scraps and make cushions. I’ve bought all my lovely hessian fabric to make curtains on ebay – its not really intended for curtain making but I love it and it is VERY cheap.


hessian fabric just 2 pounds a metre! Perfect for 3m long curtains!

So there you have it. I literally buy almost everything I can on ebay. Even if I see something I like in a shop I just go home and do a search on eBay to see if I can find it cheaper. And that’s the way to make sure you get lovely stuff even if budgets are tight. Hope you find my advice useful. You’ll become the master or mistress of the ‘saved search’ before you know it!

What’s French for Christmas?

Joyed Noël obvs. Today’s slightly – ate too many mince pies, drank too much mulled wine – blog post is a lazy one. I thought you might like lots of lovely festive pics of La Maison Blanche at Christmas. I’ve blogged about previous festive seasons in France here and here and here but for an easy peasy tour of Christmas Chez nous – I’ve rounded up my fave pics. They go from Christmas number one to our most recent. And this year we’re off to France on Boxing Day…. I’ll be adding more pics then. Bonne Fete xx


A tree – dig it!


Children refuse my protestations for a ‘minimal’ tree


Yule fool!


Nom nom


Berry nice right?


Giz a kiss


Shabby…. But cosy


He’s been!


Finally get my minimal tree


A dining room fit for xmas

Google interior inspo


Shady shady

Bit of a random blog post today but thought you might like some interior inspo from the coolest offices in the world – Google HQ! I’m in residence for one week as part of my ‘real life’ job as editor of Company magazine.


Please can I work here?


Pod off!

So it struck me that Google have very similar design esthetics to me! For more pics check out our story on company.co.uk

Then get updating your CV – they have unlimited food and snacks all day long too!!! #dreamjob

Lets look on the postive!


You’re welcome

I am sometimes accused of moaning. I know? Fancy that. My husband says I complain too much about things and says I need to be more ‘half full’. My friend, and former boss Meribeth who is Canadian and thus I suspect born with inherent positivity starts most sentences with “you know, you gotta look at the positive..” and I really do try. And our great friends Johnny and Ana Maria who were about to arrive at Maison Blanche for New Year are great examples of ‘happy people’. Maybe they moan behind closed doors – in fact maybe they are both perpetually morose when not round at our house or entertaining us at theirs, but I doubt it. Ana Maria is Columbian and refers to everyone as ‘my darling’ or ‘amore’. Perhaps if we had one word for ‘loved one’ in english maybe we’d all be happier and more positive.

And so our gorgeous, positive friends came to stay for new year and they were the perfect guests to see our ‘almost quite nice’ house as they are fellow lovers of renovation projects AND some of the most stylish people I know when it comes to interiors. And, er relentlessly positive. They loved our newly decorated dining room. They cooed over our half finished salon with the peeling walls and no floors. Ana Maria played Cluedo for hours with the boys (they have two boys Thomas and Alberto who my kids have known since they were all born in houses next door to one another – not literally – it wasn’t Angela’s Ashes, we just lived next door to each other at that time!) and we even persuaded all our children to look positively on a massive walk around a frozen lake at Gavarnie


It is THIS much fun here honestly kids

And even when it rained and was cold and wet Peter managed to achieve the one thing he’d wanted to do since we got the house – host a screening of The Italian Job using his 16mm projector. I bought the projector quite cheaply on ebay as a gift for him not realising that to buy 16mm film is ferociously expensive. As a consequence, The Italian Job is the only film we have and setting it all up requires a lot of effort, so we’d never actually bothered – until now! And the boys all snuggled under a duvet in our half renovated salon while Michael Caine attempted to ‘blow the bloody doors off’ and the adults opened a bottle of champagne to see in the New Year. And even I was forced to admit that things really had turned out nice again.



Downstairs Bathroom ‘Get the Look’

Bathing beauty

Bathing beauty

The last time I did a ‘get the look’ post I got a lot of love for it. Like I said before, I AM a journalist so research is in my DNA. Its one of the things I love about renovating (and oddly one of the things that other people cite as the reason they don’t do it – “who has the time to look for tiles blah blah”)

Its where other blogs are invaluable too as blogging is a way for those of us who love searching down bargains and unique ways to decorate to share our wisdom. And I often wonder what would I choose for my homes if I could choose anything. Where would I start if money were no object. For me the starting point of any room is usually based around some money saving necessity and I take it from there usually via Ebay!

In the case of my downstairs bathroom the bath was the thing that had to stay. It was in the room when we moved in but had slime and quite possibly an ecosystem living in it. There were vines and creepers growing through the window of this room and it had a concrete floor and falling down walls.

A hot water tank. Which means - HOT water!

A hot water tank. Which means – HOT water!

This picture above was how it looked AFTER we’d cleaned it up a lot. But thanks to a lack of funds, Peter decided that the bath had to stay. And I rather liked its little metal feet so I said OK. And as you can see – the floor had been accessorised with a rather nice piece of cardboard that we had to step on so floor tiles were needed asap. So we visited B&Q near our house in London and found some slate tiles a bit like this that were on sale. So for only about £100 we had enough to cover our floor and do a skirting board in them too.

Colours Excellence Pack of 5 Black Slate Wall & Floor Tiles (L)300 x (W)300mm

B&Q slate floor tile

Most places do slate tiles like this. And I love the look. I could have spent more and got these ones from Topps Tiles

Or really blown the budget and gone to Fired Earth who do these brilliant rectangular tiles which I think give a lovely country feel. In fact am now wishing I’d pushed the budget a bit. Maybe when its time to re-renovate and I’ve turned this blog into a moneyspinning enterprise with my own TV show I can make Fired Earth rather than B&Q my home.

And on our walls we went for Cornforth White by Farrow and Ball – I can’t even remember how or why we got to this colour but it may have involved my friend and colleague Oonagh who knows every F&B colour by heart. I suspect some nights she dreams of Farrow and Ball. Her alltime fave BTW is Light Blue which isn’t really blue at all but grey. But maybe she suggested Cornforth to go with the slate – either way it works and I am really happy with it.

Cornforth White

Farrow and Ball Cornforth White

The bathroom suite itself (and I use the word suite loosely as the dodgy old iron bath was staying, all I needed was a loo and a sink) came from a local bathroom centre in Greenwich. Well, Charlton technically. Lets go for West Charlton. Its called Gem Discount Bathrooms and sells pretty much any type of bathroom you would want but the ones you can get for really knock down prices are the ‘traditional’ look ranges. Everyone does them and they are always on sale because no one likes them anymore. Or at least they don’t like them in their wipe clean, modern, limestone tiled London bathrooms. (And I don’t really either though I did just do up my bathroom at home and went for something in between)


My new London bathroom!


More London en suite bathroom


Savoy toilet from Bathstore.com

Anyway I digress…. Victorian style bathrooms feature on most people’s sites and are often on sale. Ones I love include this bathstore.com old school cistern at the top loo.

It is part of their Savoy range which looks like this. Perfect for French Country homes. Or English Country Homes I suppose. But maybe not in downtown Dalston!


Winchester Suite from Victoria Plumb

bathstoresavoyOr Victoria Plumb often have things on sale. This bathroom suite is currently only £168 for the loo and sink!

And after that I just added things found at Vide Greniers. A lovely vintage picture which remains one of my fave ever finds. A storage cupboard from a local brocante (which Peter had to tie to top of car and drive home).


Moustache mat from Primark

But my favourite recent addition is my moustache bathmat from Primark (who FYI do some great bits and pieces of homeware!) Ta da! And only £6 I think. Bargain.


It’s shabby chic (or is it just shabby?)



For some time, the phrase Shabby Chic was a buzzword in interiors. Cath Kidston, Kirstie Allsop et al encouraging us all to mix twee with retro with floral and come up with studied shabbiness. And I do love it to a degree but at home my husband (rightly) refuses any attempts of mine to girly up our home. And my two boys laugh in the face of a chintzy print. So in France, I indulge my girly side. I have wallpaper, I have quilts, I will attempt to smuggle in as many cushions as possible and I may even aim for some fringed lampshades at some point.

The house is so big that Mr White is sort of fine with some of it having a girly feel. And it rather suits the rambling, run down feel of it all. It would be odd to throw a state of the art, Italian marble kitchen into rural France (and we can’t afford it anyway!) so shabby chic it is. Thank god there’s a term for it, otherwise it would just be shabby! We had a shabby Christmas….

A shabby bedroom with laura Ashley josette wallpaper (just the words Laura and Ashley would send Mr White into a decline if I tried them in London)



We use outdoor furniture as a dining table (see above) but not for long readers! Dining room makeover coming soon…


And we use Cath Kidston Cowboy print A. LOT. I’ve always loved this print but have thus far only persuaded my male family to go with it in the form of an oilcloth tablecloth. For some reason in France they think its ok.


And we have lots of French Toile quilts which may be girly but they are perfect for snuggling under in the winter when watching Bullit on Peters 16mm projecter. Which I would argue is a boy version of shabby chic – old, slightly broken and not really as good as just buying Apple TV in terms of viewing pleasure but SO much more romantic. So you see, there’s a shabby chic for everyone.

mid century moderniser and friends with a chateau


Old stuff but not THAT old

I love mid -century modern furniture. Although, to be honest, I didn’t even know what that was until a few years ago. You may not know what it is. In short, if you are my age (27 -haha!) its the stuff your parents probably had in their starter homes and threw out when you were about six or seven in favour of ‘nice new stuff’ My parents used to have an amazing massive glass lamp stand with a huge bright orange linen shade which I remember thinking looked a bit odd at the time. They also had a scratchy brown wool sofa with wooden feet that again I hated on the grounds that a)it was brown and b) it was scratchy but looking back it was all deeply cool. So much so, I have essentially recreated the look to go in my kids sitting room in france only the sofa isn’t scratchy or brown. (see above)

The best place to buy mid century modern furniture is of course ebay using searches like G Plan, Eames, danish, or retro. Sadly people these days are very aware that people like me want this old stuff so they charge a premium but if you use plenty of different search terms and DON’T search for mid century modern (cos really only those in the know would use this term – Gladys throwing out her old sideboard in Penge would never refer to it as such!) you can still get some bargains – thanks Gladys!


We have a sideboard just like this in London

Or, even better, you do what we did and you find a sofa lying on the road… this is the story of the yellow G Plan sofa in the picture at the top….

A couple of years ago, I was on my way to our local station to go to work. And on the way there I passed a tired, broken, ripped up old sofa. It was G Plan style and just the sort of thing I love. But the cushions were dirty and torn and it looked terribly sad. And it had been dumped on the street unloved and unwanted. So I did what any sane person would do – I phoned my husband and told him to come down the road and get it. Carry it home on his back and find it a home. He told me to bugger off. He had a point. So I went off up West to work and forgot about the sofa.

A few months later as the tennants were being thrown out of the house we would later buy -which I forgot to mention in earlier blog post is actually six doors down from where we were living – and as part of their clearout they had dumped a sofa on our street outside the house. MY SOFA! It had manage to move closer to where i lived all by itself. Like the Littlest Hobo. Or those cats that cross continents to be reunited with previous owners who moved away without taking them.

So Peter had to go and get it now. The furniture gods had spoken. And so we brought it home and then drove it down to France. And in the meantime we bought an upholstery gun and some staples and a retro fabric from John Lewis who do a great range in 1950/60/70s fabrics called Atomic.


John Lewis fabrics with a retro feel

And I got my sewing machine out and made some new cushion covers for it – with zips no less! And ta da suddenly it looked how it does above. And it had only cost us the price of the fabric. And I love it. Though not entirely snuggly (see above comments about scratchy sofa – the seventies were NOT a time of comfort) it does provide the perfect place for me to sit and read French Grazia in the winter.

But where else can you find such gems IN France? Well, as it turns out this is around the time we met some lovely English people called Stephen and Philippa. They live in an amazing chateau in a village called Aignan – and from there they sell brocante. And they have lots of mid century modern stuff there (as well as properly old stuff too) so I bought my crazy orange lamp and a black leather chair (see below – covered in teddies).


Chair from Brocante Lassalle

And as small world would have it, Stephen lived in Greenwich before moving to France and Philippa is a fashion editor so it was more than furniture kismet that we were introduced to them and their chateau and their brocante. And now we often bump into them on Sunday’s at Vide Greniers and race each other for the mid century gems! And for New Year this year, they invited us over and we felt very grand telling people we were spending new year at a chateau. Which should you have some spare cash is currently for sale. Go on – its a bargain!Image

Another derelict house? Why not??


So just as our French home was taking shape, with heating, a working toilet and even a specific room for the kids to read French literature (er, ok, play on their iPads). We could have friends to stay, pretend we were a family in a White Company catalogue wafting around in Breton stripes and espadrilles and post pics on Facebook about our ‘gorgeous French home’.

Back in London, we had a lovely four bedroom house in Greenwich, a historical, leafy bit of London with a huge royal park and a branch of Nandos overlooking the river. The. Dream.
We’d bought our current house when Arthur was born and although it needed a bit of ‘doing up’, new bathrooms and kitchen etc, it wasn’t too bad (and remember we are seasoned doer uppers). Several years later and it was really lovely. Big eat in kitchen, two nice limestone and slate bathrooms, four gorgeous bedrooms – ours with Cole and Son Cow Parsley wallpaper in yellow which I loved. It had carpets. It was warm. It had a bright red glossy kitchen and a nice garden with decking and an outdoor seating area. So.



We did what any normal couple would do – we bought a disgusting huge house that wasn’t even a house, it was three flats. On the day we went to look at it we met a Jack Whitehall-esque (jack whitehall in Fresh Meat I add – in real life he prob lives in an Islington townhouse) paid by the council tenant who was there to stop squatters moving in. He was arriving back from the Co-op at around 10am with a see thru carrier bag containing half a loaf of hovis, a half pint of milk, a bottle of lucozade and 10 Marlborough Reds.
The room that was to become our kitchen had a mattress on the floor, half eaten pizzas in boxes, lager cans with cigarette ash around the ring pull opening and the occasional boil in the foil lasagna with cigarettes stubbed out in them.

It had three front doors, one of which was accessed by a horrid metal fire escape up the side and when we first moved in, to go to bed, we wearily left the middle front door, climbed up the fire escape and went in the top front door.

It was, and still is, the biggest project we’ve taken on and as we were concurrently doing up the house in France too, it was an act of madness. S why did we do it? Well, largely because it looked like this…..


Or more importantly, once Nester, our neighbour had been and helped us saw off the metal fire escape, and roger, another neighbour painted the front and some Farrow and Ball Studio Green had been applied to the front door. It looked like this…


A grand house with steps up to the front door. Like in Mary Poppins. The way I had always imagined people in London living, when I, as a child lived in Newcastle. With nannies jumping over roofs and chirpy cockney chimney sweeps popping in to say hello. It has four large bedrooms, six reception rooms and four bathrooms. The perfect home for my boys who were getting bigger and smellier and basically need a separate floor where they can be big and smelly.

The interiors sadly were and still largely do, look like this though…



But, hey, at least we have a nice home in France to escape to right?